The word going around baseball today was that longtime Phillie and two time world champion Pat Burrell was going to retire from baseball. The former number one pick in the draft has cited his oft injured foot as keeping him from playing at a high level and over a long 162 game season. Foot problems have long bothered the slugging outfielder. They first struck him when he was with the Phillies and were so bad at one point that doctors were actually wondering how Burrell was able to actually play through an entire season. After playing through several seasons since the problem first appeared it now looks like the damage done is finally taking it’s toll.
If Burrell does in fact retire as the rumors say, it will end a career that had some up and downs but was also a very good career in the end. While it is safe to say his numbers did not live up to the hype of being the first pick in a draft he none the less put up enough numbers to be in the top ten of number one over all picks in recent memory. Many people put insane expectations on being that number one overall, thinking the player should be either a 40 home run a year monster or a perennial 20 game winner. In baseball with so many picks, then so many levels to actually reach the majors, it often does not work out that way. Burrell’s numbers as I said still hold their own. He has nothing to hang his head over, at least not from on the baseball field. Pat Burrell played nine seasons in Philadelphia and in that time he hit .257/.367/.485 with 252 doubles, 251 home runs, and 827 RBIs. Not elite numbers but good enough to be in the top ten of the all time Phillies lists in quite a few categories.
Pat came up in the 2000 season and was thrust into the starting lineup as a firstbaseman when incumbent Rico Brogna suffered an injury and finished 4th in the Rookie of the Year voting after hitting 18 home runs and knocking in 79 in just 111 games with a respectable .822 OPS. His 2001 was also very respectable helping Larry Bowa and the Phillies turn around their mediocrity into respectability. Then in 2002 he broke out. Hitting .282 with 37 home runs and 116 RBIs and His .920 OPS gave a lot of hope that the Phillies finally had a stud player to build the team around since the Phillies had to trade the disgruntled face of their franchise Scott Rolen during the season.
Things looked very bright going into 2003 and then the wheels fell off. Burrell had the worst year of his career, slumping to hitting .209/.309/.404 with just 21 home runs. Several factors helped contribute to the year. Many pointed to his active night life of staying out all hours and partying as a big factor, pressure from his belief that he had to carry the team since he was now the marquee player, playing through some injuries, and there was also clubhouse strife involving him and manager Larry Bowa. Bowa’s abrasive win at all costs and strict style was one of the reasons Scott Rolen wanted out. A year later it was starting to wear thin on several more players and Burrell got involved in noted clubhouse rabble rouser Tyler Houston’s attempted “player revolt”, which lead to Tyler Houston’s release. Some how through this lost year the Phillies fans, who are noted to be very harsh at times on players, still gave Burrell tremendous support. I still remember the fans giving him standing ovations after his hitting doubles to this day. A far cry from the vulture persona ESPN and various fishwrappers in other cities like to label on the city and it’s fans.
The next year Burrell found out that he did not have to carry the team, the Phillies had signed Jim Thome to do that with his broad shoulders. He responded by having a better year, but was still playing through his injuries and the year, while respectable, was not what everyone expected of a former number one overall pick.
After these two seasons Burrell took a step back towards being an important cog for the Phillies. Despite some animosity from many fans that had lost all hope that he would ever be a productive player, Burrell turned his career around. His value can not be argued as he became more comfortable being one piece of the larger puzzle instead of the centerpiece and he began putting up very good numbers complimenting players like Jim Thome, Bobby Abreu, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, and Chase Utley. Pat also began taking more walks, which helped offset his strikeout numbers.
Pat also settled down in his personal life around this time, getting married, and breaking the hearts of many female Phillies fans that he made moon eyed in his many years playing in the city. Stability helped him grow as a player. He was also relatively healthy although his foot never truly did heal but he was able to play though it with less pain and concentrate on his game. His range and speed was never anything but below average but his play in leftfield actually improved to a respectable level through his hard work and he was able to use his strong arm more effectively. He also spent a lot of time working with Charlie Manuel on his hitting. This was a new Pat Burrell who was not just resting on his laurels, he was trying to get better and help his team and it’s fans.
2007 rolled around and Pat was in his 8th season and had never tasted the playoffs. Thanks to a monster year by Ryan Howard, a MVP year by Jimmy Rollins and career years by guys like Aaron Rowand and Greg Dobbs and good pitching by Jamie Moyer and Cole Hamels the Phillies made the playoffs for the first time since 1993. Burrell was a very big part of it, hitting .256/.400/.502 with 30 home runs. He had his 2nd +.900 OPS season. Lack of playoff experience and some bad pitching helped the Phillies get knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by the Rockies, but the team was finally back in the playoffs and they were hungry.
2008 rolled around and Hall of Fame GM Pat Gillick made several changes. He added Brad Lidge, Pedro Feliz, Geoff Jenkins, So Taguchi, Chad Durbin, Rudy Seanez, and Joe Blanton, Matt Stairs, and Scott Eyre in late season deals. While most of the names did not put up huge numbers, each one was an important piece to the team. Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth both took huge steps forward during the season and combined with Burrell to give the Phillies one of the better outfields production wise in the entire league. Like the previous year, this team never said die and turned around a deficit to win the NL East for the second straight time from the more favored Mets.
The playoffs rolled around once again, but unlike the last season, these Phillies were now playoff hardened. They blew through both a very good Milwaukee team and a Joe Torre lead Dodgers team that was favored by many to represent the NL in the World Series. Burrell made big contributions in both series, homering twice in the clinching game 4 against the Brewers and game 1 against the Dodgers, hitting .333 against them and the Phillies were in the World Series.
The World Series was an offensive nightmare for Burrell as he only had one hit. That hit however turned out to be the biggest of his career. Bottom of the 7th and the game tied at 3 after raingate, Pat launched a double off of JP Howell. Naturally Charlie pinch ran Eric Bruntlett and then Pedro Feliz knocked him in. The rest is history as Brad Lidge locked down the game in the 9th and the Phillies were World Champions again. While he struggled through the World Series his double at a key time will always be a huge part of Phillies history. It would be the last hit of his Phillies career.
At the parade the Phillies gave the soon to be free agent the place of honor riding on the Clydesdale at the front. It was a sign of what many people suspected. The Phillies were not bringing Pat Burrell back. It was a sad moment for many as the Phillies went out and signed Raul Ibanez and Pat was forced to go elsewhere.
Pat signed with the defeated AL Champions Tampa Bay Rays and became their DH due to Carl Crawford, BJ Upton, and Ben Zobrist manning their outfield positions. He was never happy there, did not like DHing, did not like how alien their clubhouse was, and honestly he missed the close nit clubhouse he had with all of his teammates back in Philadelphia. Rumor had it that he and Carl Crawford actually had an altercation, which has been denied but the denials were not very strong and the rumors persist to this day.
He began 2010 with the Rays again but was very ineffective and the Rays released him. There was some hope by some that the Phillies were going to bring him back but he ended up with the San Francisco Giants and he gave their offense a big boost hitting 18 homers and having a .872 OPS in 96 games. He managed to homer against Atlanta in the playoffs but once again did not play well. Despite this he managed to get his 2nd Championship ring, getting some revenge by ousting the more heavily favored Phillies along the way.
2011 was an injury plagued season as both he and the Giants offense had struggles and Burrell was spent a lot of time on the disabled list during the campaign. These injuries are what has lead him to evaluate his career and seems to have made up his mind that it is time to retire.
It is a sad end for a player who experienced several highs with all of us Phillies fans. He never did live up to what he was supposed to be on paper, but he honestly did have a good career here and the Phillies seem to be ready to provide one last honor for him. Ruben Amaro was quoted as saying that the Phillies are looking into signing Pat Burrell to one more contract, a 24 hour one. Pat Burrell will then be able to retire as a Philadelphia Phillie, as he should because it is right. It is right for many reasons because no matter what anyone can say about Pat Burrell, he IS a Philadelphia Phillie and he did contribute a lot to help give us one of the best eras of Phillies baseball in history. Only one more honor remains and that will be coming soon. Pat the Bat will one day be a part of the Wall of Fame at Citizen’s Bank Park.
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Barry Jeffrey Jr. writes “The Crow’s Nest” column for PSC.